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Autumn in New York
ART TIMES November 2007

AUTUMNAL COLORS ARE now at their peak in my area, Overlook Mountain sporting a multi-hued mantle as I look out at it from the window of my study. Over the years, I’ve tried to “capture” Overlook on paper, on canvas, with pencil, watercolor, and oils, and have never  succeeded. It simply has too many faces — different in spring, in winter, in summer, and fall; different in morning, in afternoon, in both early and late evenings; different on clear, sunny days as well as on those that are misty and overcast. Different, different, different! Yet there it stands outside my window, a simple enough form to delineate, as steady as, well — a mountain. Oh, I’ve managed to get a good painting every so often — got it from various angles, the north, the south…even its eastern face from the Hudson River (by far its grandest aspect). Overlook Mountain has even become the overriding image in a novel I’ve worked on for some time, titled — surprise! — The Mountain, which I’ve still to get published. The first in a series of mountainous hills that parallel the Hudson River, Overlook and its fellows are an imposing lot and American Indians in the area used to call the rising range of land-masses “The Wall of Manitou” — The Wall of God — something I speak of in the current critique of Thomas Locker’s work in this same issue.  The term speaks not only of a reverence for Nature, but also — to me — seems to hint at a warning of sorts, a notice to man that the “wall” is there for purposes beyond his ken. I especially sense the admonition each time I drag my sketchpad or paint box outside to “give it another go”. Like I said, it seems to defy me, dare me to transfer its massive essence into a two-dimensional image with my paltry instruments of pencil or brush. Although I always experience the “agony of defeat” — (weighty characterization of my Sunday-afternoon jaunts, that) — there are those who’ve viewed my attempts as passable works of “art” — have even taken them home with them to decorate some empty wall of their homes. Nice. But every landscape artist knows what I’m saying here. We always end up with an approximation, a compromise — if we try to be a bit pompous about it, we might even call it an “interpretation” — an artful (pun intended) dodge that sort of extricates us from the sometimes messy business of “explaining” our efforts to non-artists — or, for that matter, to other artists. Anyway, looking over my laptop at Overlook in its autumnal finery as I write this, there is one thing I definitely know, and it’s that I should never — never — try to tackle that mountain in the fall. There is simply no way that I can compete with both Overlook and the colors of fall — the #$%^! mountain is difficult enough without throwing in yellows, and reds, and oranges, and browns — and leftover greens. Oh, I know that there are those intrepid plein airistes who do take on the season — even come away with some pretty good stuff. But we all know that it’s but a pale reflection of what Nature does all by herself. Heck, I can’t even believe my eyes when I’m looking right at it. Who can believe my imitations of it? Who even wants to look at my renditions when all they have to do is step outside — or hop into a car — and see it at first hand. Still, I love this season. Though it humbles me — just as that looming mountain outside there does — autumn reminds us to get our stuff in order. It offers a clarity of vision that no other season can offer…reminding us that winter is not so very far away.

Raymond J. Steiner

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